One of the mysteries leading into roster-cut weekend for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was whether Jacquies Smith, one of the team's most talented edge rushers, would emerge from it on the active roster or the PUP list. One the best pieces of news to come out of the weekend for the Buccaneers was that question getting a very positive answer.
And it got even better on Monday. Not only was Smith retained on the 53-man active roster, but he was back on the practice field to start Week One. Whether or not that leads to game-day active status on Sunday remains to be seen but Head Coach Dirk Koetter doesn't seem to think it will take long for Smith to get back into the mix.
"He just returned to practice today; he was out there in pads today and he got a few reps," said Koetter. "I mean, he's been out for a long time and it's a lot different doing the mock drills with the trainers than it is playing against other grown men. So we'll just see how long it takes, but I don't think it's too far off."
Smith missed almost all of the 2016 season, suffering a knee injury in the opener after playing exactly one defensive snap. He spent the 2017 offseason recovering from that injury and was hopeful of being on the field for the start of training camp. Unfortunately, he suffered a setback in his recovery just as camp was set to begin and was thus placed on the active/physically unable to perform list.
Photos of the Buccaneers' complete roster.
Using that designation gave the Buccaneers the future option of moving Smith to the reserve/PUP list at the start of the regular season if he was not ready to play. That move would have meant that he would miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. Now the Buccaneers' defensive end depth suddenly looks a lot better.
At the start of the 2016 season, the Buccaneers envisioned using Smith as a designated pass-rusher, bringing him in at right end on obvious passing downs and moving starting end Robert Ayers into the middle. Heading into 2017, the Bucs still have Ayers and William Gholston as their starting defensive ends but have the trio of Smith, Noah Spence and Ryan Russell that they can rotate in as they see fit.
Smith can definitely rush the passer. He played 27 games in the 2014-15 seasons and totaled 13.5 sacks in that span. That rate projects him as an eight-sack player over a 16-game season, though Smith has yet to play that many games in a single season. The Buccaneers would obviously be thrilled if one of their linemen emerged as the first 10-sack player since Simeon Rice in 2005, but that's not necessarily critical to the team fielding a fierce pass rush. Smith, Spence, Ayers, Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker all have had seasons with at least 5.5 sacks – and recently – and that quintet could combine to provide quite a bit of pressure. The Buccaneers may find more pass-rushing use this year for the athletic linebacker combo of Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, as well.